Saturday, 10 March 2018

Who do you follow?

"What you eat today walks and talks tomorrow!" announced the billboard as I passed through Redfern Station in my last year of high school. I forget what it advertised—biscuits or breakfast cereal perhaps—but 50 years later that sign should say "What you read today walks and talks tomorrow." Problem is, we have way too many options. 

Choosing who to follow is a delicate task. You want a balance between what supports and encourages and what provokes and perturbs. With the right mix, you have a rich feed in your email in-tray and support for your action as a committed environmentalist. Complement this with face-to-face time with real people, and you’re less likely to get lost in cyberspace. Here are some of the people I follow.

George Monbiot, columnist with the UK Guardian, is an informed and acerbic critic of environmental matters. He's a big picture thinker who gets across the details. For example, calling the recent UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan "a work of cowardice", Monbiot lays in:

"In terms of policy, it ranges from the pallid to the pathetic. Those who wrote it are aware of the multiple crises we face. But, having laid out the depth and breadth of our predicaments, they propose to do almost nothing about them.”

Richard D. Bartlett is a new voice I'm following via a platform called Medium. I think the technical name is ‘aggregator’, a business that culls stories from many sources. Most such platforms are a disappointment—lowest common denominator, designed to entertain. Medium draws on activist, socially critical thinking, and isn't afraid of posts that take 20 minutes to read. They use the comment function intelligently.

Bartlett is one of the people behind Loomio, a software platform for deliberation and decision making in distributed groups. I had a play with Loomio last year, then found he spent last year visiting activist communities around the world, posting often. He has a sharp mind and writes clearly nails issues with a snappy turn of phrase. On Facebook:  

"We’re normalising a form of public discourse which is optimised for virality, not meaning."

His purpose is pretty much what I do and he's younger than me, so I get a different generational lens on a similar set of interests. Reading someone with whom I identify affirms my purposes, and it's good to have those affirmed. Plus, he’s in networks of people who care about the things I care about, and I can link through to those people from his writing.

For a pure news feed, Making Enviro News gives me a daily email of clippings from print and web media. They are well organised: Issue date: Mon 22 January, 2018. Estimated Reading Time : 05 Min 31 Seconds. Number of items : 65. I don’t always open the email, but when I do, I get a scan of what’s making news from the mainstream to alt media.

For a mix of local news and opinion, the Landcare stall at the monthly Riddells Farmers Market is hard to beat. Informed people with long memories chat, and I get the latest on who's doing what and what people think about that, in a free-flowing and open stream. 

My other dose of the local is an old-fashioned long phone call with someone like Rob Bakes, my colleague in the Forum for Democratic Renewal. Rob is at his desk early, and will phone me around 8.00 am to get my opinion and give me his latest thinking about how to enliven democratic process in the Macedon Ranges. I put down what I am doing and join in: a long phone call is a rare and wonderful thing.

So there are four of mine. Who do you follow? How have you found them? Why are they good for you? Email me at, and I'll compile a list of good places for environmentalists to hang out.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Another year on Earth

So it’s another year on planet Earth. Here we are, twirling slowly through space, night and day, season following season. Mildly-informed citizens know now that the gig’s up. We know in broad brush what a 2 degree rise will do (intensifying storms, reduced water, etc), and that habitat and species diversity are in precipitous decline. We can’t know how these new phenomena will play out locally. The tipping points are all around us, but we can’t know exactly what’s going to break when, only that it is already.

The gig is up. The new normal has arrived, but it’s unpredictable, playing out in every locality in a different way. Here on the southern slopes of the Macedon Ranges, perhaps we haven’t been much affected yet, though the signs and intimations are all around. The year before last, the owner of the daffodil farm told me that Spring had come 3 weeks early that year. We each have our own markers: when we lost 1000 km of mangrove fringing the Gulf of Carpentaria, in summer 2015-16, I felt sick, sad, disturbed, for weeks. The event barely registered in mainstream media. 

Now the Great Barrier Reef is 2/3rds gone, though perhaps it will come back, with a new mix of species. Bushfires in California, blizzards on the East Coast, hottest months, hottest years. And yes, perhaps the tide is turning, despite our governments, but these are disquieting times. Welcome to another year as an environmentally responsible citizen.

Riddells Landcare’s first event in 2018 will be a walk through Barrm Birrm the morning of January 26. Australia Day, Invasion Day: whatever you call it, it was a big day in the life of this country. Then we have Cleanup Australia Day, Sunday 4th March. If your idea of fun is being in the bush with enthusiastic, responsible people, this is a date for your diary. The Scouts have joined us for the last few years, and it’s wonderful to get alongside these kids and their troop leaders as they scour the 120 ha of Barrm Birrm and haul back shopping trolleys and car tyres and discarded furniture and marvel at the behaviour of humans.

And who or what exactly is Landcare in Riddells Creek? We are a group of people who support each other looking after our own properties, and in doing what we can to care for the remnants of the grassy plains and woodlands around Riddells Creek, that once covered the volcanic plains down to Melbourne. And the open forests that sit up slope, off the grasslands, which is where Barrm Birrm is located.

We do what we think is necessary, and what we can manage in the midst of busy lives. We work to our own agenda, and we are independent of government, although we talk to government. Sometimes, we speak out on the performance of government programs and policy at national, State and local level—our unofficial 2017 rating for community and government was ‘could do better’ (and that includes us in Landcare!). We need to do more, or do what we’re doing a whole lot smarter, and preferably both. A kangaroo stamp to the Macedon Ranges Shire, which has a heap of good things environmentally in the pipeline.
Clean-Up Australia Day 2016

But because we’re volunteers, we make sure we enjoy what we’re doing, alongside the hard work. At our events, you will meet interesting people, learn a little more about the bush, and leave knowing you’ve done a bit for Planet Earth.

Our next big event is Clean-Up Australia Day, Sunday 4th March. Meet at the T-junction of Gap Rd and Royal Parade, 10-12 am. Just show up, with gloves, a hat and some water. Or drop in at the Farmers Market, and tell us what’s on your mind.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

Clean-Up Australia Day 2016, the Scouts loading up the trailer

Friday, 5 January 2018

A better place to live

After three weeks in Japan, I shuddered for days under the shock not of the new, but of the familiar. Landing at Tullamarine, this wide land announces itself first in the bossy, slightly sour attitude of airport terminal staff. We shrug our shoulders and bear it at as we are directed through immigration, luggage collection, customs.

In the city, I’m stuck by the dirty public places and the movement of so many different peoples. A score of races press themselves into the crowded tram, glued to their phones, kind of resenting having to put up with others. It’s that knockabout Australian attitude: “you do what you want and I’ll do what I want and let’s not get in each others’ way”. That has its strengths, but it can get tiring when no-one attends to the space between.

The Japanese have a different civility. People attend to the shared public space – it counts for a lot in Japanese life that you think about what the other person needs.   

Sweeper of fallen leaves, Tokyo

A city of 33 million is one reason to cooperate - this is the Tokyo Underground
Back in Australia, I got used to Australian culture pretty quickly, just because it is so familiar. And I can stand it because I live in Riddells Creek, where people stop for conversations in the supermarket and the post office people greet you with warmth and sharp commentary on this modern world. I stood in the lush green of the valley, imagining what the wonderful Japanese people I’d met might think of living here. The swallows had settled under the eaves at the back door, the grass was up, and the silver beet and kale had run to seed. It took me till Christmas to get on top of it.

Here at Riddells Landcare, we’re talking to the Shire’s weeds person about the options with Galenia, common name carpet weed, because it rolls like a carpet over everything. Regular readers will remember that last summer’s spraying program was stymied when our contractor’s preferred mix of chemicals was found to be “off-label”, that is, not registered for use with Galenia, despite being the only mix that had proved effective.

After consulting the expert in Agriculture Victoria, we applied this year to use a chemical registered for use with Galenia. Now we find this chemical isn’t acceptable in residential areas. What is to be done? The Shire officer suggested digging. Mature Galenia has a very long tap root, up to a metre, so summer wouldn’t suit. Perhaps in winter, when the ground is damp, a weed contractor might be tempted to forgo their spray rig and hop on the end of a crow bar and shovel.

In the meantime, we are having one last try for a licence for ‘off-label’ use of our original preferred chemicals. Such licences are only extended in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Is this an exceptional circumstance? Watch this space.

It takes time and emotional effort to dig around in the bowels of bureaucracy and negotiate these matters. Videos like these, about people in the City of Knox bringing wildlife back to their backyards, are an antidote at those moments when I feel myself slipping back into “You do what you want and I’ll do what I want and let’s not get in each others’ way”.  No, no, no. Wrong thinking! There’s a lot of us, and when we work together, we make the world a better place to live, right now!

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,